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Feb 282013
 

Independent Manchester United supporters group, Stretford End Flags, have today revealed the plans for proceedings ahead of their club’s Champions League game against Real Madrid. Having mocked rival clubs for years for their plastic flags, United will now join the ranks of the plastic flag brigade.

Plastic flags for plastic fans?

 Posted by at 9:32 pm
Feb 282013
 

According to Forbes magazine, Manchester United Football Club are now valued at $3.3 billion, making them the most valuable sports franchise in history, a whopping $1.2 billion ahead of their nearest competitor, the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.

From the mustachioed Mr. Potato, the global snack partner of Manchester United, to billionaire Zong Qinghou, said to be China’s richest man, it seems like everybody wants to be in the Manchester United business. So what accounts for the richest football club in the world smashing the $3 billion barrier? Let’s take a look inside the numbers.

1. 659 million

According to UK research firm, Kantar, the number of Man United’s worldwide followers. With about seven billion people on the planet, if the survey is accurate, nearly one out of every ten humans is a Red Devils fan, making them, by far, the world’s most popular football club, more than doubling the next most popular teams, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

2. £130 million

The amount of commercial revenue United is expected to bring in this year from deals with their numerous official sponsors.

3. 108 million

The number of United’s followers in China, which brings us back to China’s richest man. Mr. Zong is chairman and majority shareholder of Hangzhou Wahaha Group. Wahaha, an iconic Chinese beverage company, recently signed a deal to become United’s official soft drinks partner in China. On the day the deal was announced, the club’s stock rose 5.2%. Wahaha is nothing to laugh at and was just another example of the great commercial team working behind the scenes to seal these lucrative deals.

4. £104 million

Broadcast revenue received during the 2011/12 campaign. Though the amount was down a bit from the previous year, the revenue stream remains strong. Global rights relating to the Premiere League, plus their own global channel, MUTV, which delivers programming to 54 countries, should keep the broadcasting cash flowing nicely.

5. £25 million

The per season amount that Chevrolet will be paying to have their logo worn on the front of the team’s jerseys. The deal kicks in with the 2014-15 season, when they replace AON, who had only been paying a paltry £20m per season.

6. 75,766

Old Trafford’s capacity. In addition to the commercial and broadcasting revenues, the third major revenue stream is matchday income. With an average of 99% of the venerable stadium filled to capacity for every Premiere League game over the last fifteen years, the club brings in a tidy £4 million per home match.

7. 35

The number of United’s official sponsors. From multinational companies such as AON to smaller, regional manufacturers, like Indonesian tyre maker, Multistrada or the Malaysia based noodle company, Mamee, Manchester United continues to expand its brand in every corner of the globe.

8. 19

The number of league championships won by United. Everybody loves a winner and winning usually means more money, which means the ability to sign top players, which often leads to more winning. Pleasant little cycle, isn’t it?

9. $14

This was the IPO price per share of Manchester United stock when it first went public in August, 2012. As of this writing, the stock is up to $18.33, one major factor in pushing the club’s valuation above the $3 billion mark.

10. 1

The position of Manchester United in the English Premier League. After falling just short last season, Manchester United are on course to bring home championship number 20 (perhaps even the treble emulating the 98/99 season).

Manchester United are a historic football team worth billions in value with hundreds of millions of fans worldwide. 32 million likes on Facebook and a highly successful team on the pitch, the business of Manchester United grows from strength to strength thanks to a combination of very clever commercial partnerships internationally and success on the pitch. One without the other would have meant a business worth nowhere near $3 billion but together they are a force to be reckoned with.

Feb 282013
 

BBC Radio 5 live reporter Alastair Yeomans: “What was a difficult first half for you in the end turned out OK?”

Rafael Benitez: “Yes, it was difficult, normally in the FA Cup it’s always difficult but I thought our team was doing well, it was a professional performance, a lot of players doing well. I was really pleased with Nathan Ake [who made his full debut] and really pleased with Paulo Ferreira because they showed they are good players and fantastic professionals. So for me, a great performance of the team and I am really pleased with the result.”

AY: “What was your thinking about making eight changes for this game, because we saw the other week when Arsenal maybe didn’t play their full team against Blackburn they lost. What was your thinking about that?”

RB: “I had a lot of confidence in the players because I can see them training every day and they were doing really well, so I was really pleased, I could see in the training sessions and was really pleased, so to play them, no problem.”

AY: “And first half, the tempo, was that quick enough for you, was that good enough for you?”

RB: “I think that they were pushing so they were working hard so it was not easy but they were doing their job.”

AY: “How important is this FA Cup to you now? You go to Manchester United next so there are no givens.”

RB: “I think for us every game, every trophy is really important. I have been manager for 26 years, I have won the Fifa Club World Cup, the Champions League, FA Cup, a lot of trophies and I’m really a little bit disappointed with some fans, a group of fans singing and I think they are not making any favour to the team.

“They have to support the team instead of wasting time doing banners or singing songs. What they have to do is support the team and create a good atmosphere in Stamford Bridge. If we cannot achieve the target that we are looking for, to be in the Champions League… If they continue singing and talking and talking then I think they are not making any favours. They have to support the players, they have to support the team, I have experience as a manager, I will do my best until the last day.

“They gave me the title of interim manager, it’s a massive mistake. I am the manager and I will manage the team until the end, every single minute.

“If they want to carry on wasting time with these things because they have an agenda, they have to take responsibility if something is wrong. It’s not just ‘I will blame this one, I will blame the other one’, what they have to do is to support the team and then everyone has to stick together and we can achieve what we want to achieve – that is the Champions League. Simple.

“If not then next year they can carry on singing but we will be in the Europa League so they have to realise that they are not making any favour – to the rest of the fans and also to the players.”

AY: “When you made the comments that they are talking about, some of them, you were fighting for Liverpool. There was a big rivalry with Liverpool and Chelsea, you’d expect you to say those things, is that what you’re saying?”

RB: “I am a professional, I am doing my job and I will do my job. What I want to do is, I want to win every single game for Chelsea Football Club. But, if they don’t understand this, at the end of the season, because I am interim, I will leave. They don’t need to worry about me.

“What they have to do is to support the team, to support the players. And it’s a group of people and they have an agenda. They have to realise that the rest of the fans, they want to see the team the next year in the Champions League. It’s not ‘I am right or I am wrong’, you have to see the team in the Champions League and they have to support the team, that is the main thing.

“At the end of the season, I will leave. They don’t need to be worrying about me.”

Feb 272013
 

Following Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Middlesbrough in the FA Cup this evening, Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez launched an incredible attack on the fans.

Benitez was an unpopular choice at Stamford Bridge largely due to his time as Liverpool boss when he claimed that Chelsea fans lacked passion and was involved in several heated games in the Champions League.

Since arriving at the club the fans have made their feelings on his appointment very clear by singing anti-Benitez songs and bringing “Rafa out” banners to games every week.

“They are wasting time with their banners and songs,” said Benitez tonight. “They don’t need to worry about me. I leave at end of the season. These Chelsea fans have an agenda. These Chelsea fans are damaging the image of the club. I’m experienced. I’ve won the Champions League, the Spanish league twice, the FA Cup. They (fans) are a group with an agenda. They must get behind the team or they will be in the Europa League next season.”

Benitez has the lowest win percentage of any manager during the Roman Abramovich era and since he got the job Chelsea have slipped from 4 points behind the league leaders to 19 points behind. There have been reports that his relationship has broken down with the players which has only served to perpetuate rumours that he might not even last until the end of the season at Stamford Bridge.

Benitez may have speeded his exit along tonight as it wasn’t just the fans who he attacked in the press conference, but the board too, after the decision was made to call him the “interim” manager, making it clear that his post was only intended to last until the end of the season.

“Why put ‘interim’ in title?” he said. “Why did they need to do that? Maybe they thought: ‘He was at Liverpool so we put ‘interim’ in’.”

Benitez is no stranger to having a rant though, with his most famous coming back in 2009 when Liverpool were top of the league, and he chose to attend a pre-match press conference with a list of “facts” about rival manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Liverpool preceded the pick up just 10 points from the next available 21 and United raced ahead, going on to equal Liverpool’s record of 18 titles. “He’s cracking up, he’s cracking up, he’s cracking, Rafa’s cracking up” the United fans used to chant. I imagine we’ll be hearing the same from Chelsea fans at the weekend…

Feb 272013
 

During the French Cup Quarter Final between PSG and Marseille this evening there was a bit of handbags between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Joey Barton. After the Englishman was fouled, Barton went on the attack, before making fun of Ibrahimovic’s big nose. The Swedish striker seemingly couldn’t care less and reminded Barton which of the two of them was loaded.

Ibrahimovic earns a reported £11m a year with the French club, a £2m pay rise on what he was being paid at Inter Milan. Barton doesn’t do too badly for himself, considering he is a totally average footballer, but his salary is closer to £3m a year.

Feb 272013
 

Bookmakers are number crunchers 99.99 per cent of the time, setting their football betting odds based on statistics and other forms of important data such as injury and suspension news. But, when it comes to Barcelona, it seems that logic goes out of the window and irrationality takes over.

Apologies to Celtic versus Rangers, Boca Juniors versus River Plate and Everton versus Liverpool and other famous derbies but there is no bigger club game than El Clasico, the name for any match between Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Every El Clasico brings the football world to a standstill and the giants will go head to head at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday 2 March 2013 for the 166th time in the Spanish La Liga tournament, with Real Madrid’s El Clasico league home record standing at 50 wins, 15 draws and 17 losses.

Furthermore, Real Madrid is unbeaten in its last 35 home games across all competitions, winning 28 of those matches and heading into Saturday’s El Clasico off an impressive 3-1 Copa del Rey away defeat of Barcelona earlier this week.

Everyone knows that Barcelona is 12 points clear at the top of the Spanish La Liga ladder and well on its way to taking out its 22nd domestic championship. Most people accept that, on their day, Barca are the world’s best club side. But it beggars belief that Tito Vilanova’s team is the favourite for this weekend’s El Clasico in Madrid’s big backyard.

Incredibly, bookmakers are quoting Barcelona at odds of around 11-8 (read up on fractional odds if you’re not used to this odds format), with Real Madrid trading at odds of greater than 2-1 and the draw available at odds of around 13-5.

To say that the odds do not make sense would be a gross understatement. Real Madrid has not lost any of its last four games versus Barcelona and the manner of its 3-1 Camp Nou victory on Tuesday was such that it will go into the Spanish La Liga encounter with more confidence than Jack Nicholson takes into an Academy Awards after party.

Barcelona is going through its roughest spell of the season, losing two of its last three matches and, with the Spanish La Liga title race all over bar the shouting, it is focused on salvaging its UEFA Champions League campaign. Barca trails Milan 0-2 after playing poorly at the San Siro.

What should the betting on Saturday’s El Clasico result look like? Well, the home side is entitled to be the favourite so something like 11-8 Real Madrid, 7-4 Barcelona and 5-2 draw, with the draw out of the gate because there should be goals and the only draw about which any punter can take a strong view is a goalless one. Anyone who backs the draw may as well dutch 1-1 and 2-2 at odds of around 7-1 and 11-1 respectively. The dutched bet works out at nearly 4-1.

If punters pick their spots to oppose Barcelona, there are value bets to be struck and profits to be made. El Clasico is just one example of how bookmakers are overrating Barca currently. Another one is the UEFA Champions League tie between Barcelona and Milan that is at its halfway stage.

Barcelona is 0-2 down going into the Camp Nou second leg yet bookmakers think, give or take a few percentage points, that the outcome of the tie is a coin flip. That is ludicrous.

First, there are the historical arguments against Barcelona and for Milan. The history books show that only 18.6 per cent of teams that lose the first leg of a European tie 2-0 away from home end up winning the clash. Also, Italian Serie A teams are 46-9 in terms of progress and elimination after winning the first leg of a European tie 2-0 at home. The last Italian side to falter from this very strong position was Milan in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals 17 years ago. A bloke by the name of Zinedine Zidane inspired Bordeaux to win the second leg 3-0 in France to knock out the Rossoneri.

And second, there are this term’s goal-scoring statistics for Milan and goal-conceding statistics for Barcelona. The Rossoneri have scored in 15 of their 17 competitive road games this season, including in 10 of its last 11 away matches. Overall, Milan has scored in 28 of its 35 games, including in each of its last seven matches and in 13 of its last 14 games. Massimiliano Allegri’s side scores regularly. Barcelona concedes goals just as regularly as Milan scores them. Barca have kept only five clean sheets in their 20 competitive home matches this term and they have let in a goal in 31 of their 42 games played anywhere. Those are numbers that will surprise the average football punter.

There is a very strong chance that Barcelona will have to score at least four goals in normal time of the Camp Nou second leg to eliminate Milan. Back the Rossoneri at odds of around 8-11 to knock out Barca because the market is wrong.

Feb 272013
 

The Daily Mail has today claimed that Chelsea have “airbrushed” out former boss Roberto Di Matteo from a painting on a wall at Stamford Bridge.

In reality, the picture of the squad that included Di Matteo at the beginning of the season has just been replaced with a picture that never included him, rather than him being airbrushed out of it.

Feb 262013
 

‘He’s an incredible human being. It’s as simple as that’ – the words used by Sir Alex Ferguson to describe a player who might just get a statue or an Old Trafford stand named in his honour in similar fashion to the wily old Scot. Many within the game have even tipped him to replace the man who has managed him throughout his professional career.

As Ryan Giggs is on the verge of bringing up his millennium of senior matches, we pay tribute to a man who will go down as one of the greatest to ever grace the pitch. The 39-year-old is a one-off and it is unlikely that his combination of footballing excellence and longevity will ever be replicated.

It would be too hard to write one column on why Giggs is my favourite footballer ever, but sometimes words simply are not necessary. Here is a list of stats and figures outlining just why Manchester United, and the football world in general, will be poorer when the flying Welshman decides to call it a day.

Club Trophies

· 1 – UEFA Super Cup

· 1 – Intercontinental Cup

· 1 – FIFA World Club Cup

· 2 – Champions Leagues

· 4 – FA Cups

· 4 – League Cups

· 8 – Community Shields

· 12 – Premier League titles

Personal Awards

· 1 – OBE for services to football

· 1 – PFA Player of the Year

· 1 – BBC Sports Personality of the Year

· 1 – Goal of the Season

· 1 – Golden Foot

· 2 – Wales Player of the Year

· 2 – BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year

· 2 – PFA Young Player of the Year

· 3 – Premier League Player of the Month Awards

· 6 – times selected in PFA Team of the Year

· Selected in: PFA Team of the Century, Premier League Team of the Decade, UEFA Champions League Dreamteam

Personal Records

· 12 – top division English titles

· 16 – Champions League tournaments in which he has scored

· 23 – Successive league campaigns in which he has scored

· 37y, 289d – Oldest player to ever score in the Champions League

· 64 – Caps for Wales

· 100 – First Manchester United player to score 100 Premier League goals

· 145 – Number of Teammates for Manchester United

· 168 – Goals for Manchester United

· 611 – Premier League appearances

· 782 – Starts for Manchester United

· 931 – Overall appearances for Manchester United

Stats

· Giggs has notched up 10 league goals against Spurs, more than any other club

· He has faced Arsenal 48 times in his career

· The Welshman averages 0.18 goals per game in which he plays

· Of the 15 players with the most all-time PL appearances, the only one not to have received a red card is Ryan Giggs.

· His first goal for Manchester United was against fierce rivals Manchester City

· When Ryan Giggs made his debut, Danny Welbeck was only 3 months old and Phil Jones had not yet been born.

· He is joint 7th in the club’s all-time leading goal scorer list.

· Giggs has only been on the losing side on 10 occasions in which he has scored a goal.

· Only Paolo Maldini, Clarence Seedorf, Raúl and Javier Zanetti have played in more European fixtures

· Of his 4 penalties taken during a match, he has converted all 4. He also netted the winning penalty in the 2008 Champions League final shootout.

· Of the 39 clubs Ryan Giggs faced at least 5 times, Leicester City and Crystal Palace are the only ones he didn’t score against.

The A-Z of Giggs’ 145 Manchester United Teammates

A -Anderson, Ben Amos

B – Phil Bardsley, Fabien Barthez, Russell Beardsmore, Bébé, David Beckham, David Bellion, Dimitar Berbatov, Henning Berg, Clayton Blackmore, Laurent Blanc, Jesper Blomqvist, Mark Bosnich, Wes Brown, Steve Bruce, Nicky Butt, Alexander Büttner

C – Fraizer Campbell, Eric Cantona, Michael Carrick, Chris Casper, Roy Carroll, Luke Chadwick, Michael Clegg, Tom Cleverley, Andy Cole, Larnell Cole, Terry Cooke, Jordi Cruyff, Nick Culkin, John Curtis

D – Simon Davies, Fabio da Silva, Rafael da Silva, David De Gea, Ritchie De Laet, Mame Biram Diouf, Eric Djemba-Djemba, Bojan Djordjic, Mal Donaghy, Dion Dublin

E – Chris Eagles, Richard Eckersley, Jonny Evans, Patrice Evra

F – Rio Ferdinand, Darren Ferguson, Darren Fletcher, Diego Forlán, Quinton Fortune, Ben Foster, Ezekiel Fryers

G – Darron Gibson, Keith Gillespie, Andy Goram, Jonathan Greening

H – Owen Hargreaves, David Healy, Gabriel Heinze, Javier Hernández, Danny Higginbotham, Tim Howard, Mark Hughes

I -Paul Ince, Denis Irwin

J – Ronny Johnsen, Phil Jones

K – Shinji Kagawa, Andrei Kanchelskis, Roy Keane, Kleberson, Tomasz Kuszczak

L – Henrik Larsson, Anders Lindegaard

M – Pat McGibbon, Federico Macheda, Lee Martin (90s), Lee Martin (00s), Manucho, David May, Brian McClair, Liam Miller, Philip Mulryne

N – Nani, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Erik Nevland

O – Gabriel Obertan, John O’Kane, John O’Shea, Michael Owen

P – Gary Pallister, Park Ji-sung, Paul Parker, Mike Phelan, Kevin Pilkington, Gerard Piqué, Karel Poborsky, Paul Pogba, Rodrigo Possebon, Nick Powell, William Prunier, Danny Pugh

R – Felipe Ricardo, Kieran Richardson, Mark Robins, Bryan Robson, Lee Roche, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Giuseppe Rossi

S – Louis Saha, Peter Schmeichel, Lee Sharpe, Teddy Sheringham, Paul Scholes, Les Sealey, Alan Smith, Mikaël Silvestre, Danny Simpson, Chris Smalling, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Jonathan Spector, Jaap Stam, Michael Stewart

T – Massimo Taibi, Carlos Tevez, Zoran Tosic

V – Antonio Valencia, Raimond van der Gouw, Nemanja Vidic, Edwin van der Sar, Ruud van Nilstelrooy, Robin van Persie, Juan Sebastián Verón

W – Danny Wallace, Ronnie Wallwork, Gary Walsh, Neil Webb, Danny Welbeck, Ian Wilkinson, Mark Wilson

Y – Dwight Yorke, Ashley Young

Feb 262013
 

Pete Sixsmith reports on another awayday disappointment,  in fact not one but – for him – two in one weekend. Can’t speak for fans of the Leeds Rhinos but it is familiar reading for Sunderland supporters …

I should have known that it wasn’t going to be my weekend when a huge Melbourne Storm forward called Jesse Bromwich careered over the  Leeds Rhinos’ line to put his team ahead in the World Club Challenge at  Headingley on Friday night.

Eighteen hours later at West Bromwich, a similarly sized and equally  effective Belgian centre forward took advantage of a misjudgement by  Titus (“Look out there’s an error coming”) Bramble and put the Baggies  two goals up against us and subsequently won the game for them.

A disappointing weekend for those who support the Rhinos and The  Black Cats, but the Rhinos game counted for very little in the whole  scheme of things, unlike the Hawthorns encounter which could play a  seminal part in our season.

To be fair, we did not play badly and both Baggies goals were  avoidable. The referee got the Gardner penalty spot on; if the ball hits the outstretched hand it’s a penalty. Unfortunately, Mr East failed to  spot Gareth McAuley’s handball a few minutes later, to the chagrin of  Adam Johnson.

East is a referee in transition as he is not yet on the full time  list. This was his fifth Premier League game and he has been given  middle ranking games (Fulham, Villa, Liverpool, that kind of thing),  including two against us – he made his debut at Swansea in September.

He had a decent game except for the fact that on at least two  occasions he got in the way and spoiled promising moves which could well have brought us something.

Jake records another defeat

But enough of Wiltshire Roger. What of the performance of those gallant lads, freshly returned from the winter hell that is Dubai?

It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t good, it was, well, average. And that is about as good as it gets for us this season. Average.

There was nothing to get excited about and not much to get too depressed about – although if we continue losing games by the odd goal, we will end up down amongst the QPRs and Readings of this world.

The manager decided to go with the clamour for two forwards and four in midfield. Did it work? Probably not, as neither forward scored and Graham did little to worry the impressive Ben Foster. Fletcher (roundly booed by the Baggies fans because of his Wolves connections; how childish. Catch us jeering former Mags when they turn up at the SoL.) hit the post and tried to get the forward line moving, but the lack of spark in midfield made that very difficult.

That is where the nub of our problems lies. Comparing the respective midfields is like comparing English Rugby League with its Antipodeans equivalent. One gives plenty of effort and has the occasional spark, while the other is a well oiled machine that just keeps on rolling.

Sess had a good game out wide and Adam Johnson had his moments. Both Larsson and N’Diaye worked hard, but neither had the ability to pick a telling pass or set up the front men.

Albion were able to do this, with the very impressive Youssouf Mulumba showing how it should be done. He is a very good player and Albion will do well to keep hold of him should bigger clubs come calling – although I doubt he will take off to QPR.

Where do we find a player who will control the centre of midfield? Vaughan was ok when he came on and he showed his composure when he brought down the ball and hit a shot that was deflected narrowly wide.

Composure is something that we sadly lack. N’Diaye exhibited precious little when he put a cross into the crowd from a very inviting position and James McClean really should have put away the ball that landed at his feet as Mr East prepared to blow his whistle for the end of the game. Instead, he shanked it over the bar when a sidefoot or header would have given us a point.

The other thing that struck me was that had we been 2-1 ahead at the SoL with ten minutes left, the opposition would have battered away at us and we would have retreated deeper. It didn’t happen here.

We did attack but with out a great deal of intensity and McAuley and Olsson were discomfited but not troubled. We should have been hoying the kitchen sink, gas cooker and American style fridge with water cooler, ice maker and drinks dispenser at them, but we didn’t.

In February, we have taken zero points from nine, allowing every team around us to play catch up and one or two to get ahead of us. By Monday night, if either the Mags or Southampton win and West Ham take all 3 points from Spurs, we will be looking over our shoulders.

A similar return from the next three games and we will be well and truly in the proverbial brown stuff. Are we good enough to get away from it and leave QPR, Reading, Villa, Wigan and Newcastle (wishful thinking there) cutting each others throats? We shall see.

Finally, many thanks to West Midlands Police for routing the returning coaches through parts of Birmingham that even Brummies know little of. They made us wait until almost 6pm and then, instead of a left turn past the ground and on to the M5, it was a right turn and the delights of Brown’s Green and Hamstead. I suggest we get our own back next season by sending the Baggies to Jarrow and through the tunnel before joining the A1 somewhere near Morpeth – assuming we are in the same division!

Feb 262013
 

Tomorrow at 7:55 GMT live footage of PSG v OM, French Cup Quarter Final, is available.

Again Beckham’s will be playing (maybe starting this time after his assist?) alongside Ibrahimovic & co, he will line up against compatriot Joey Barton who has recently criticized the former England captain. So there’s a lot of buzz in the lead up to this Cup final on YouTube. This is LIVE on the French Football Federation’s channel for the first time.

Feb 252013
 

Here’s a look at few selection and strategy options for Manchester United ahead of their Champions League second leg fixture against Real Madrid on March 5th.

 

Central Defence

If all players remain fit, the dilemma for Sir Alex will be whether to stick with the same central defensive partnership that started at the Bernabeu or bring in Vidic to replace either Ferdinand or Evans. Given that Ferguson is still managing Nemanja Vidic’s return from injury, it won’t be surprising if he is preferred for the Norwich game instead on the Saturday prior to the second leg. Moreover, both Evans and Ferdinand put in a solid shift in the first leg. Vidic might be a better header of the ball and more of a physical presence but against a team like Real Madrid who will be looking to counter attack, the mobility of Evans will be preferred.

 

Rooney’s position

In all likelihood, Sir Alex will require Rooney to put in another ‘defensive’ shift, pressing high up the pitch by marking Alonso, and tracking back down the wings to provide cover. But, unlike the first leg where he was deployed on the right, Rooney needs to be playing on the left. This is a position that he’s played in the past. Although, this isn’t his ideal or favourite position, he can’t do much worse than he was in the first leg.

 

This might seem a tad harsh given that he was asked to do a specific role and curb his attacking instincts. But it was Rooney’s intent to stop Ronaldo despite both Phil Jones and Rafael were doubling up on him that left Fabio Coentrao in lots of space to have an effort on goal (that was pushed onto the post by De Gea). He was at fault for not closing down Angel Di Maria soon enough; hence enabling the winger to pick out a perfect pass for Ronaldo’s equaliser.

 

A move to the left will provide extra cover to deal with Di Maria who found a lot of space and time and ran Patrice Evra ragged in the first leg. As in the game against Spurs where all emphasis was placed on closing down Bale which in turn left Lennon unattended, similarly the mission to thwart Ronaldo using effectively three players (Rafael, Jones and Rooney) meant that Di Maria saw more of the ball and was a constant menace down the left flank. In addition, while attacking, he can drift inwards and switch places with Kagawa (assuming the latter starts) and play in the hole behind Robin Van Persie.

 

And Danny?

Welbeck can play his pressing game on the right too as he did so quite effectively after coming on as a substitute in the win over Manchester City earlier this season. The other option, unthinkable as it might sound on the back of his performance in the first leg, is to drop him in favour of Cleverly or Nani. The latter can be frustrating at times but can still attack better with the ball, is a better finisher, and can put in a decent cross (against Reading in the FA Cup). In a game where chances could be a luxury, it is imperative that United make the possession and opportunities count.

 

Plan B if Phil Jones is injured?

Up until a few weeks ago, not many would associate Phil Jones with Plan A against Real Madrid in a Champions League knockout fixture (mind you, some probably still don’t). The earlier jack of all trades is now being called on to carry out a specialist role of marking (read: chasing and harrying) the oppositions’ ace card. Tom Cleverly, who started all of the team’s ‘big’ Premier League games (Chelsea, City, Liverpool) was sacrificed in the process. But having sustained an ankle injury that saw him on crutches after the FA Cup tie against Reading, Jones’s chances of a repeat performance in the second leg is uncertain. If this were to be the case (extent of injury not known at the time of writing this article), it is likely that Cleverly will start alongside Michael Carrick in midfield. He might not constantly breathe down Ronaldo’s neck but his quick passing, intelligent movement and ball retention capabilities will be important for United.

 

 

Summary

Though fans at Old Trafford would prefer a more attacking approach from their team, one can expect Ferguson to exercise a bit of caution and focus on ball retention, both of which will be quite important in protecting what is essentially a lead in the tie for Manchester United.

Feb 242013
 

- Chelsea must beware a Man City backlash this weekend after the reigning champions were humbled by Southampton last time out. The 3-1 defeat will have prompted Roberto Mancini into reading the riot act to his players and expect them to come out firing at the Etihad on Sunday.

 

Yaya Toure has stepped right back in his role as the pivotal figure in the City midfield following his return from the African Cup of Nations. The big Ivorian is snipping on the heels of Santi Cazorla for title of the league’s most effective passer. He sits second on the EA SPORTS Player Performance for passes completed in the opponent’s half with 948.

 

Carlos Tevez continues to excel for City this term despite his side’s indifferent form in recent weeks. He’s contributed either a goal or an assist every 79.7 minutes this season.

 

James Milner’s industry is what so often gets him into positions to deliver the final ball and it is this energy and tenacity which is why he leads the City squad for crosses delivered with 31.

 

Chelsea demolished Wigan 4-1 at Stamford Bridge as part of a dazzling all-round display by the reigning European champions. The goals were shared throughout the team, with Ramires, Eden Hazard, Frank Lampard and Marko Marin all getting on the scoresheet. They will need to bring a similar blend of steel and flair if they are to topple Man City in their own backyard this weekend.

 

– Few players can claim to be as influential for their sides as Spanish maestro Juan Mata, his technical excellence defining most of Chelsea’s season. It will crucial for City defenders to close down his space and prevent him adding to his 753 completed passes in the opponent’s half or it will be a long day for their defence with him pulling the strings just behind Chelsea’s forward line.

 

– The idea that his talents are in decline seems to have spurred Frank Lampard onto even greater heights this season. Renowned as a consummate professional, he’s been equally as efficient with his on-field exploits, his 11 goals coming once every once every 3.8 shots.

 

– Shackling the considerable talents of this City outfit will likely fall largely to the Ramires and David Luiz but they must control the urge to rush their challenges in a game where ill-discipline could cost them. The two have racked up 43 fouls between them this season.

Feb 242013
 

- Despite a first-half Yoan Gouffran goal, Newcastle fell to a 21 defeat at the hands of Tottenham and the inspired Gareth Bale. Alan Pardew can take heart from what was a strong Newcastle performance and he will be looking for his side to produce a similar performance against the Saints this week.

 

– Despite only playing 767 minutes this season Sylvain Marveaux still has the highest number of assists of any player in the Newcastle squad with 5.

 

– Midfield dynamo Moussa Sissoko looks to be settling into life at Newcastle well, quickly picking up the pace at which the play is conducted in the Premier League. He’s already completed 60 passes in the opponent’s half this season, at a rate of one every 4.6 minutes.

 

Fabricio Coloccini continues to be Newcastle’s defensive rock this season, the Magpies captain leading by example to the rest of his defensive colleagues. He’s established an excellent 78.9% tackle success rate from 38 attempted challenges according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

 

– Alan Pardew will be looking for far greater accuracy from Papiss Cisse as Newcastle continue to adapt to life after Demba Ba.  As yet this season the Senegalese frontman has only managed to work the keeper with 52.1% of his 46 attempts on goal.

 

Southampton produced one of the great performances in their history last time out as they condemned reigning Premier League champions Manchester City to a 3-1 defeat at St Mary’s. Goals from Jason Puncheon and Steven Davis secured a famous win and they will want to carry their new-found momentum into this weekend.

 

– Expect to see Jason Puncheon build on his performance against Manchester City this week and look to terroise Newcastle’s defence on Saturday. He leads the Southampton squad for dribbles with 15.

 

Morgan Schneiderlin is renowned for his all-action defensive efforts in the heart of the Southampton midfield and has now joined Steve Sidwell as part of the exclusive club of players to have attempted 100 or more tackles this season.

 

– Defender Jose Fonte shows no signs of ending his excellent run of form any time soon, as he leads the Southampton squad for defensive contributions this season with 211 according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

 

Rickie Lambert has spent much of this season proving his value is not limited to how many times he hits the back of net. His movement and physical presence has been an invaluable asset for Southampton and he has so far provided a squad-leading 7 assists according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

Feb 232013
 

1) I’m not entirely sure why but prior to the game I felt slightly nervous thinking we’re going to be in for a very tight game and some late drama, with our recent trip to White Hart Lane still vaguely in memory. Seeing the starting XI didn’t help me relax with Rooney only on the bench, Giggs starting centrally and Kagawa nowhere near the squad. Having been offered the chance to go 15 points clear at the top of the league with City to play against Chelsea tomorrow is an opportunity that very rarely presents itself, and so it was crucial that we took full advantage. Although it’s still too early to see its full effect, you’d imagine this victory will have the City players looking at the size of the gap between the two clubs and thinking “there’s no coming back from this now”.

2) Make no mistake; our win today was not exactly plain sailing. Having said that, we did create quite a number of chances but failed to convert a large number of them which had me worried that today was going to be ‘another one of those days’, where everything goes against us. Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney both missed chances after taking a touch when a touch wasn’t needed, a great save stopped Robin van Persie from scoring a peach and Nani missed a couple of headers too, plus a few other chances that went begging. On another day, we’d have been punished for missing so many chances, but fortunately today, none of that matters as we’ve bagged the three points.

3) Whilst it seemed our strikers were having an off-day, our defence put in another solid show with them bagging their third consecutive cleansheet in the Premier League. David De Gea produced the goods too when he was called upon, and so it’s great to see that we’re finally looking like a team that can win without relying on their strikers to score three or four every match. It’s not only at the back where our defence has been ace, but the number of goals scored from our defenders this season has been immense. Although I was impressed with Vidic and Rio at the back, I would still prefer seeing Evans starting ahead of Nemanja as I feel he offers much more going forward.

4) It was over a year ago when I wrote an article regarding the importance of Rafael Da Silva to the Manchester United team, and I’m glad that people are finally starting to see just how good a player he is. He’d be the first to admit that he still has plenty to learn, but as of this moment in time, you’d find it very hard to find a better fullback in the league. His overall contribution to the team is phenomenal and can be best summed up during his ten minute spell today which included him scoring a contender for goal of the season, shortly followed by a clearance off the line to keep us a goal up, and then a delightful cross which Robin van Persie was on the end off. I find it slightly ironic that our two best strikers this season have come from the Brazilian, with the other coming at Anfield. Easily my Man of the Match.

5) On to less promising performances, Danny Welbeck had an odd game yet again. I’m always the first to shower him with praise and I really do think he’s a fantastic little player, plus there’s that little thing about him being an out-and-out Manc which I love, but I do think it’s fair to say that he’s got to have a long look at himself in the mirror. His overall contribution to the team is brilliant, his attitude and work-rate is undisputed but when it comes to his ability in the box, he’s as tame as a kitten. Unless he starts finding the back of the net more often and becomes a more clinical finisher, I hate to say it, but he might not be at his boyhood club for too long. We all know how ruthless Sir Alex can be, but I hope that that isn’t the case here.

6) Someone who has spent their entire career at United and doesn’t look like he’s going to stop any time soon is Ryan Giggs. He didn’t have the best of games with him often leaving his midfield partner doing the running of two men, but what Giggsy lacks, he more than makes up for in other departments. Firstly I’d like to mention the sheer audacity of his lob which came off the bar. It defied physics, in fact, if you’d have seen it in a game of Fifa, you’d have thought it was a glitch! His goal was sensational though, his movement brilliant as he slipped in behind the defender and cooly slotted it past the hapless Cesar. There’s not much else I can say about Ryan that hasn’t already been said though. 999 career games – It’s been a genuine honour watching him grace the pitch every single time.

7) Our next two fixtures will have us hosting both Norwich and Reading respectively at Old Trafford. Although you can take nothing for granted in football, I fully expect us to take six points from both those games. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s only a matter of ticking away individual matches before we can finally take our trophy back from those noisy neighbours. Yes, the Champions League would be great, and the FA Cup a nice bonus too, but all I care about at the moment is making sure we have that twentieth title.

8) The last ten minutes of our game today reminded me a lot of our game against Everton last season due to us already leading in a potential tricky tie with only a few minutes left. Against Everton we played with a certain nativity which saw us throw men forward when all we needed to do was see out the game, and our decision-making came back to bite us on the arse. Today, after slotting in the second, our players had the intelligence to keep the ball and make sure we didn’t concede to save us the hassle of yet another nervy finale. A lot of credit must go to Wayne Rooney who came on and set the tempo with his maturity and experience. Nani too deserves a mention after another fine performance which saw him pass the ball well and making the team tick.

9) The only disappointing news from our game today was seeing Robin van Persie pick up a little niggle which I’m hoping is nothing more than. Going into the final stage of the season, it’s important that we have our main players fit and ready to help see us through all the way to the end. I’m more worried about Phil Jones getting back in time for the Real Madrid game if I’m perfectly honest. Both players will play crucial parts if we’re to knock out the Spanish giants.

10) “Hard to believe it’s not Scholes, it’s Carrick, you know…”

Feb 232013
 

- QPR remained rooted to the bottom of the Premier League as they were soundly beaten 4-1 away to Swansea. A solitary Bobby Zamora goal will have given little cheer to the R’s dressing room and they face an ever sterner challenge this weekend.

 

Julio Cesar has rightly been garnering rave reviews for some of his performances since joining QPR. The EA SPORTS Player Performance Index records him as making 107 saves despite only playing 1687 minutes this season, the lowest of any keeper in the top 15.

 

– Much of the creative responsibility for QPR falls to Adel Taarabt and Man Utd will be keen to shut down his space this weekend. He leads the QPR on numerous attacking front including dribbles (41), crosses (26) and assists (5).

 

– The Moroccan forward is also often QPR’s biggest threat in front of goal, his 77 attempts being almost as many as the next three most prolific shooters in the QPR squad combined (87).

 

Man Utd cruised to a 2-0 victory over Everton as they continue their seemingly unstoppable march towards yet another Premier League title. The ever-green Ryan Giggs slotted home the opening quarter of an hour, followed by yet another Robin van Persie finish just before the break.

 

– Brotherly affection will be suspended on Saturday at Loftus Road and you can guarantee Rafael will be relishing the chance to compete against his twin Fabio. The Man Utd man has certainly had more game time than his twin this season and so it’s unsurprising to see him excelling on the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index. He’s racked up 84 defensive contributions this season as well as 443 completed passes in the opponent’s half, placing him 4th amongst Premier League right-backs.

 

– Fellow defender Jonny Evans continues to excel and has disrupted the established centre-half partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic with his performances. He currently has the best tackles rate of player in the Utd squad with 68% for 28 challenges.

 

– Should QPR manage to shackle Robin van Persie they will have achieved a feat that few defenders have managed this season. The Dutchman has been irrepressible this term, his 19 goals meaning he has scored from every 4.63 attempts he’s had on goal.

 

– Not to be outdone, forward partner Wayne Rooney has been upping the ante as the season has progressed, completing the third highest number of passes in the opponent’s half in the United squad (471) as well as chipping in with 7 assists.

Feb 232013
 

- Ten-man Arsenal secured what could be a valuable win away to Sunderland as they held on for a 0-1 win at the Stadium of Light. A rasping Santi Cazorla shot was enough for Arsene Wenger’s men, as they battled to the end after losing Carl Jenkinson for a second bookable offence.

 

– Despite only playing 1408 minutes of football this season, Jack Wilshere has already completed 560 passes in the opponent’s half. This pass rate places him 5th on the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for minutes per pass.

 

– In his absence, Santi Cazorla has been more than willing to shoulder the burden of creative midfield general. The diminutive Spanish wizard is currently sitting on 998 passes completed in the opponent’s half this season and will be expecting to become potentially the first player to break the 1000-mark this weekend. Hi nearest rival is Yaya Toure on 942.

 

– Although he has been criticized at times for his performances this season, Per Mertesacker boasts some of the best defensive statistics in the entire Arsenal squad. Not only do he have a 71% tackle success rate from 31 challenges, he also leads the Gunners’ squad for clearances (30) and interceptions (45).

 

– Expect to see Theo Walcott use his pace to get in behind Aston Villa’s much-troubled defence and test Brad Guzan this weekend. The England forward has been revelling in his time spent in more central positions and is third in the Arsenal squad for attempts on goal (57) and has the strongest shot accuracy rate in the squad for players with over 10 attempts (68.4%).

 

Aston Villa claimed all three points in a crucial 2-1 over West Ham last time out. Despite an Ashley Westwood own goal, strikes from Christian Benteke and Charles N’Zogbia were enough to give Paul Lambert’s men continued hope of maintaining their Premier League status.

 

– Arsenal are having trouble with their wide defensive setup at present so expect to see Matthew Lowton making some charges down the flanks this weekend. He’s so far delivered 31 crosses and has completed more passes in the opponent’s half than any other Villa player this season (317).

 

– Although Villa’s defenders have been criticized repeatedly this season, the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index shows that there is certainly no lack of quality amongst their defensive leaders. Ciaran Clark has made an exceptional 225 positive defensive contributions this term, including 28 blocks, the third highest in the league.

 

– Much of Villa’s hopes will inevitably fall on the broad shoulders of Christian Benteke as they push for Premier League survival. The striker has had 76 shots on goal and has the best accuracy rate (71.1%) of any player in the top 20 for number of attempts on goal.

 

– Villa keeper Brad Guzan has been called into action repeatedly this season but has kept on rising to the challenge. He leads the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for saves with 152.